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About Wikipedia, *pedias, and etc.

Notes from

Martha Adams

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This node on the Adra information tree is about Wikipedia, things like Wikipedia (Google, for instance), and about information resources generally. This topic area connects back into history.

Written knowledge, always valuable in the past, gained more importance in the early 1600's, when letterpress technology made possible the mass duplication of written material, especially books. There began to be a lot of written content around. This was a very big change in the state of things then. The change led people to think about practical meanings of written content, about its quality and validity, leading to the part of philosophy called "epistemology."

'Epistemology' is centrally important today. If it's a new topic to you or if you haven't thought about it recently, I recommend you link out right now and read these two urls:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Epistemology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

These introduce you to core ideas behind the *wikis and *pedias you can find by searching around a little out there. Be warned that reading a piece of work just once in this topical area, fails. The basics of good history and information development are too central, and too much abused, for that. And do not, seeing this rich resource, neglect others such as Encyclopedia Brittanica. Especially older EBs, which offer a useful time-machine connection back to when they were written.

The recent (and often changing) cyberspace resources complement Encyclopedia Brittanica and other such hard-bound resources. Not one is better than the other, nor displaces it. A student or researcher who is prevented by some wrong personal belief, or someone else's wrong personal belief from using either one of these, loses needed effectiveness and is set back in the (rat)race that today's world is. Key point: 'Free of editorial bias' is an ideal almost never reached by anybody.

If you scouted on down this page, neglecting the recommended side trip to introduce yourself to epistemology, you've made a mistake. Go back and correct it. Now!

The reader or researcher who relies upon one single information resource commits fundamental error. Any information is a little loose around the edges; all information exists within environments. Thus a useful test of an information is to review its own account of what works it rests upon. If there is only one, that's a warning. If none, maybe it's good speculation but in some contexts, beware the 'faith-based' trap. If it asserts infallibility and strict universal applicability, that's as bad as it gets.

Information resources range from daily hearsay to peer reviewed scholarly works such as the Encyclopedia Brittanica and high-density productions by and for those profoundly expert in a field. Along a whole different axis there exists cyberspace (called by some 'the internet'), which as I write in early 2007, is host or victim to a wild range of people trying to impose upon it what it is. (Much too often, for purpose of their individual ideology or profit.)

You'll have to explore on your own to find more wikis; the one I'm pointing to here is,

http://www.wikipedia.org

To better understand my following comments, go there and explore -- briefly -- then return to here.

Of especial concern to you as a researcher, is the number of entries in English as vs any other language. From which you may approach a useful conclusion about English around Terra and its probable future in space.

(Which in light of today's realities out of Washington, some thinkers are asking if Mandarin Chinese could be more relevant to our human future than American English.)

Some controversy surrounds the Wikipedia, and the other open wikis. The argument goes, these wikis generally accept postings from just about anybody, therefore, they are not expert work and therefore they are not accurate, reliable, true, or complete.

In fact, the Wikipedia makers, and very probably others as well, recognize the weak correlation between intensity of personal belief and generally acceptable accuracy of postings, and they have responded to the vandalism that appears from time to time. The practical outcome of this noisy background action, is that wikis information as tested by knowledgeable people, compare well vs other resources such as formal encyclopedias.

The controversy, however, has its points: it's worth your time to find out who feels troubled by Wikis and what they say. Be advised, such disagreements and their kind are not new with the Wikis: they appear far back into history; and sometimes, they have provoked useful work.

I've included Wikipedia (and the wikis) here for their immense practical utility. Some people want to censor them. If censorship wins, the Wiki technology will lose its great social value. Because, the bounds on who can put materials into Wikis, what those materials are and why they are there, are very loose -- now. In a world increasingly constrained by political and ideological censorship, by publication of bowdlerized and "purified" materials thru a very few well-controlled publishers, the Wiki concept becomes extremely useful and valuable.

(You may comment: Well, I can search various indirections and byways and find informations not mentioned in Wiki. Yes, you can; but I believe most of what you will find that way is 1) rubbish, of which cyberspace carries much too much already; and 2) not relevant nor helpful even within the widest bounds to Adra's topic of space settlement.)

Because Wiki is open, this morning's important science and engineering results may appear in Wiki as soon as ...this morning. The solid and stolid Encyclopedia Brittanica cannot compete with this. However, Wiki cannot compete for depth and permanence with the Brittanica: thus we see these two resources complement each other. If you are serious about your space settlement information base, then you need both at hand, nor the one more than the other.

To find how big Wiki is, jump in and see. Doing this may occupy you for a few days. You will want your workbook at hand for notes, for you are sure to come across interesting surprises. Here are a few suggested topics for you to work at. I chose each for its close relevance to human space settlement. Be warned (if you don't already know this), your search string doesn't always return either a direct hit or no hit:

"lunar libration"

"metrology"

"Milgram obedience"

"nuclear rocket"

"project orion"

"Zimbardo prison"

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